How to Spend a Day in Downtown Dallas

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Jun 09, 2017

by CATHERINE MARSHALL, Writer

There are rustlings in the Texan city... and they have more to do with entertainment and the arts than oil rigs and cattle ranches.

Dallas has shaken off the shoulder pads, big hair and wheeling and dealing – hallmarks of the eponymous 1980s TV show that made the city famous. Yes, there’s something familiar about the glass-and-steel skyline that rises from the flat Texan landscape but the cranes pivoting around it indicate a city on the move. Founded on cotton, oil, ranches and railroads, Dallas is a diverse economic hub and one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Scores of American companies, including Fortune 500s, are headquartered here. And while the city has retained some of that old charm – cowboy boots, Southern hospitality, Tex-Mex – it’s now also home to sophisticated food, wine and arts scenes.

Start the day with serenity

08:00: Join a meditation or tai chi class or go for a walk around Klyde Warren Park, an urban garden built, improbably, over the freeway that connects Uptown, Downtown and the Arts District. Grab a coffee from one of the food trucks lined up around the park.

Fuel up on Southern comfort

09:00: Dallas is well serviced by trains and buses but Uber offers ease of movement between its divergent attractions – and the chance to chat with the resolutely friendly locals. Hop in your ride and head to Ellen’s Southern Kitchen & Bar (1790 North Record Street; +1 469 206 3339), located five minutes away in the West End. This historic warehouse-filled area is undergoing technological refurbishments such as the installation of free public wi-fi and interactive digital kiosks offering mobilecharging stations, touchscreen maps and public-transit schedules. Ellen’s menu features plenty of Southern comfort food such as biscuits, gravy and grits. For a true fusion of old and new, try the grits Benedict: poached eggs on a bed of spinach, crumbled hickory bacon and cheesy grits.

Pause for reflection

10:00: Walk five minutes to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza for a solemn, thoughtful look at the life and death of one of the most beloved American presidents, John F. Kennedy. It was from the sixth floor of this former book depository that Lee Harvey Oswald fatally shot Kennedy as the president’s motorcade passed by in November 1963. Peer down from the window through which Oswald aimed his rifle and understand how this pleasant Texan streetscape was transformed into a site of deep national grief. 

Collect a little culture

11:30: Lighten the mood by exploring the Arts District, a five-minute drive or 20-minute walk away. Spanning 28 hectares and 19 blocks, it’s the largest contiguous urban arts district in the US. Don’t miss Dale Chihuly’s bright glass flowers adorning the windows in the Hamon Atrium at the Dallas Museum of Art (free admission) or the vast, thrilling collection by masters such as Miró, Picasso, de Kooning and Giacometti at the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Sculpture Center

Titillate those tastebuds

13:00: It’s a 10-minute drive to Trinity Groves, a six-hectare restaurant, retail, arts and entertainment development in gentrified West Dallas. The space is crammed with concept restaurants launched by up-and-coming chefs as part of a unique incubator program. Challenge and delight your tastebuds at Chino Chinatown, where chef Uno Immanivong blends Chinese and Latin American flavours in dishes such as chicken tinga wontons (chipotle chicken, yuzu guacamole, Oaxaca cheese) and elote (grilled corn, Cotija cheese, togarashi and Sriracha aïoli). Afterwards, pop into Cake Bar for a slice of Southern-style sweetness. 

Going Bush

14:30: Love him or not, former American president George W. Bush is presented in vivid, fascinating detail at the country’s newest presidential library. A 10-minute drive will deliver you to the nine-hectare Bush Center, set on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Spend some quiet time browsing the exhibitions that trace Bush’s presidency. Most stirring is the September 11 remembrance display, which features a soaring, battered steel beam from the World Trade Center. 

Creative shopping

15:30: It’s 20 minutes by road to Bishop Arts District – Dallas’s best-kept secret, according to those in the know. The sagging weatherboard bungalows typical of this South Dallas neighbourhood are being revamped and the main streets reflect this creative spirit with a burgeoning collection of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, galleries and boutiques. Fuel up with a slice of French silk chocolate pie with pretzel crust or buttermilk chess pie from specialty shop Emporium Pies then get down to the job of shopping. Pop into We Are 1976 (weare1976.com) for its retro letterpress prints and DFW M’Antiques for “manly” collectables such as industrial antiques, vintage cameras and old tools.

Time to raise the bar

17:30: It’s been a long day so take your pick from Bishop Arts District’s quirky collection of bars. Read a book while sipping a cocktail at bookstore-café-bar The Wild Detectives, pair gulf oysters with a glass of wine at Boulevardier or quench your thirst with locally made hard cider at Bishop Cider Co..


Image: Boulevardier

Dallas does dinner

19:00: It’s just 10 minutes by car to Stampede 66 at the junction of Uptown and Downtown. Decorated in an idiosyncratic mix of modern artworks and country-and-western comfort, it’s where acclaimed chef Stephan Pyles oversees a kitchen that dishes up down-home Southern fare and modern Tex-Mex (chicken fried steak, tortilla soup, oyster tacos), accompanied by a small but impressive selection of Texan wines. Whatever you do, don’t leave without sampling Hell’s Eggs, served with Louisiana-style andouille crumble and bell pepper marmalade, and the chef’s favourite, salted-caramel butterscotch pudding. If you prefer dinner with a view, head to the fashionable, neon-slicked Soda Bar perched on the rooftop of NYLO Dallas South Side, 10 minutes’ drive from Bishop Arts District, in the South Lamar/Cedars neighbourhood. Order share plates or mains from the suitably hip menu – kale bucatini with Texan mozzarella and gulf shrimp, quinoa bowls, fried pickles in ale batter – and watch the city’s skyline twinkle to life.


Image: Soda Bar

Feel the beat of the night

21:00: The night’s still young so head to Deep Ellum, just east of Downtown. This former warehouse district was a blues and African-American cultural epicentre in the early 1900s; today, it thumps and jives with everything from jazz and country to alternative beats. Though many of Deep Ellum’s warehouses have been converted into shops and homes, its graffiti, neon signs and water towers lend grungy authenticity. Immerse yourself in the pleasantly unkempt surroundings of Adair’s Saloon, a honky-tonk covered from floor to ceiling in the scribblings – art, not graffiti, say the proprietors – of patrons. Elvis Presley came through in 1955 and the Dixie Chicks launched themselves on this stage. Order a drink at the refreshingly inexpensive bar, sit back and see if you can pick music’s next big thing. 

SEE ALSO: Read Before You Leave: Dallas